Season 1 - Episode 5: Propaganda
Jason Petty, better known as Propaganda, is an American Christian hip hop and spoken word artist and poet from Los Angeles, California. He has released four albums as an independent artist and co-hosts the Red Couch Podcast with his wife, Dr. Alma.
Sara Barton: Hello, my name is Sara Barton and I'm the University Chaplain at Pepperdine
University. Welcome to Pepperdine's Spiritual live podcast. A podcast about how people
in our community, along with our friends and guests, are finding and joining God's
good work in the world. Jesus said, "Seek and you shall find," and I will be talking
to people who are doing just that. Let's get started.
Sara Barton: Today, my guest is Hip-Hop and spoken word artist Propaganda, Jason Petty. Which do you like to come first Jason Petty, Propaganda?
Propaganda: It depends on who's calling. If it's the bills then-
Sara Barton: Jason.
Propaganda: Let's go with Prop.
Sara Barton: Okay.
Propaganda: No, I'm just kidding.
Sara Barton: Thank you, first of all, for speaking in chapel just a few minutes ago.
Propaganda: My pleasure.
Sara Barton: Word of life for our students and actually for the Malibu community. Thank you for coming out to Malibu and giving us a word of life. After the fires and some of the trauma we've been through, that was awesome.
Propaganda: Yeah, it's not easy what you all go through.
Sara Barton: Yeah, thank you for recognizing that and for pastoring our students through that in some way. So, I want to do a little biography first. Where do you live? I'm asking you to do it. Where do you live and what do you do?
Propaganda: All right, well, I live in Los Angeles in Boyle Heights, eastern part of Los Angeles and I do yeah, I like hip-hop and poetry.
Sara Barton: Hip-hop and poetry and you make a living like that.
Propaganda: I do.
Sara Barton: That's exciting.
Propaganda: Yeah, and scary and still odd to me, but yeah, I do.
Sara Barton: Well, this is a spiritual life podcast, so I want to know what is your spiritual biography?
Propaganda: Wow, I've never been asked that question, at least in that way, my spiritual biography. Well, what is spirit? The Hebrew saw spirit as ... I'm just kidding. Yeah, I came to understand concept of God, at least in the way that I think I get it, pretty young. My grandmother's brothers were Southern Baptist preachers, you know what I'm saying. So, that's my early introductions to it.
Sara Barton: Take me into that just a little bit. You saw these uncles, great-uncles, second uncles?
Propaganda: Is that what you call them great-uncles? Yeah.
Sara Barton: I don't know, whatever. You saw them, you knew that was a part of the world. Something about that was spiritual, it was religious?
Propaganda: Yeah, in the sense of ... It's all you knew, it's cultural, a lot of it was cultural. I knew that my grand-gran who was around in my childhood was probably the holiest person I knew, in whatever ways you could define that. It's not like I had language for it then, but I just knew some how or another that she was different from the rest of us. So, I think just being around this fear of there is things greater than us.
Propaganda: My father was involved in the Civil Right's Movement. My father was a Black Panther, so I was very aware of African and African American history and roots. I saw lineage and ancestors as part of spirituality. Not in a spooky way, but in clouds of witnesses, Hebrews 11, they're part of my story. So, I knew that I came from a long line of stuff that was things going on that I'm not necessarily privy to, but I know what's going on.
Propaganda: Then, my parents became Christians-
Sara Barton: It sounds like a decision?
Propaganda: By profession, yeah.
Sara Barton: Decision, we're doing this thing and going to church?
Propaganda: Yes, when I was early elementary school and we landed at a church in Inglewood and then we were in San Gabriel Valley, for any Californians out here, at this church we just found in a phone book. We didn't know what we were doing.
Sara Barton: Phone books, we might need to define what that was.
Propaganda: Google it. Google a phone book, yeah. So, we found a church there and I think I was just a product of really good youth ministry. I think my Sunday School teacher just at youth camp ... It was like, oh yeah, I think, yeah I'm with it. Just somewhere in middle school something, but I didn't have this radical, I was doing this and then I was doing that. It was just one of those, huh, yeah I rock with that.
Sara Barton: Yeah, so you were raised with a lot of emphasis on church, the bible, the religious parts, at least after your parent's conversion?
Propaganda: Yeah, it became a part of our house. Don't get me wrong, we were still inner city family. So, there was plenty of not Christian things happening in my house. So, it wasn't like ... It's hard for me to say I was raised in the church or in a Christian home. We was at church, but I don't know if it was a Christian home until much later on.
Sara Barton: Well, I am fascinated by this just personally. I was raised on a farm in rural Arkansas.
Sara Barton: So, I look back and I try to see the spiritual or the religious or what some of those things meant and so much of it was connected to nature, a creek, a garden. So, I didn't know cities and so I love hearing your story and your reflection on ... For me too, a lot of it had to do with community and the people in the family and where they were buried and the cemeteries. So, I get some of that, but in another way it's also very different. Kind of cool how God works and we remember back. Do you remember first thoughts of God or the spiritual?
Propaganda: Man, no. I remember a first self awareness, I remember that moment. I do remember being read Bible stories in a children's Bible and I kind of remember being like, "Oh yeah, oh that's something."
Sara Barton: You were drawn to it?
Propaganda: Yeah, I was like, "There's something going on here."
Sara Barton: Did they have pictures?
Propaganda: Totally had pictures.
Sara Barton: Scary pictures?
Sara Barton: White people pictures?
Propaganda: It was definitely white people. Absolutely white people in these pictures. I don't know if I had the cognitive awareness of knowing that that's what was going on.
Sara Barton: I just remember scary pictures. We had some big Bible, it was like that thick and the scene of God kicking Adam and Eve out of the garden was terrifying. God was just so mad and they were so scared and that grabbed my imagination and informed my view of God because it was a picture ... This old Bible had gold on it and stuff. I don't know, it was huge and thick. I've seen some of those, but I don't know who the artists were, but it was kind of terrifying. But, I had these moments where I looked in the clouds and there's this stuff in the Bible about God and the clouds and heaven and that was comforting. So, there were these mixed pictures for me.
Propaganda: Nah, for us it was just the African American story. You kind of see gospel through lens of Moses and Exodus. Being brought from, being liberated from, that our suffering's not forgotten. That there's a greater narrative you're part of, so we don't necessarily see ... At least in my experience and from what I understand about just the Black experience, the Pauline lens is later. We don't see the scriptures through that.
Sara Barton: I think that's count your blessing. I mean, that is a count your blessing story right there, that that was the narrative from the beginning. The liberation story-
Propaganda: Yeah, totally. So, I guess that's why issues of justice and equality is not hard. It's right there, I don't understand what you don't see guys, yeah.
Sara Barton: So, your family in the Civil Right's Movement, was that Christianity mixed with that, how was that?
Propaganda: A lot of that was before my time. So, my father ... I mean this is like '60s, '70s, I wasn't around and it was my dad's story, it wasn't necessarily my mom's story. I mean, I don't know what was in his brain when he was communicating it. I know how it hit me and there was definitely an understanding of Black identity in the sense that this is on purpose, this is beautiful, don't let anybody tell you no different. You have a history of struggle in this country, but you got to be proud of what the Lord made you and everything about that. Celebrate the people around you and yada, yada, and some of these white people don't get it. Just that kind of washing over me.
Propaganda: I don't know if I was able to draw the idea of the Beloved City and stuff like that, these lofty concepts, I don't know if that was there. I know that there was a picture of when Martin Luther King and Malcolm X met, when they were shaking hands, there was a picture of that in our hallway. I remember I was looking at it and then being like, "Well yeah, he was a Christian, he was a Muslim." Whatever the case may be they was both Black. They disagreed on some things, but the agreed on enough and this is the moment ... Trying to help me understand the moment in that, but I don't know if I drew the connections.
Sara Barton: Have you ever seen that play that imagines that conversation, the meeting?
Sara Barton: It's awesome. Two, three people. A three person play, it's awesome. I've seen it done on Martin Luther King Day in Detroit and stuff. Yeah, it's really good and imagines that conversations. It's pretty cool, anyway.
Propaganda: That's cool.
Sara Barton: Look it up.
Sara Barton: Yeah, it's really cool. Well, why the name Propaganda? Your parents gave you the name Jason.
Propaganda: Yeah, so, actually my sister gave me the name Jason.
Sara Barton: She did?
Sara Barton: That's kind of cool.
Propaganda: It was her imaginary friend's little brother.
Sara Barton: Really?
Sara Barton: I love ... Well then why Propaganda, Jason's pretty cool.
Propaganda: I know right. My cousin gave me the name Propaganda in high school. It was just around ... I was a visual artist first, so it was around being a visual artist, being teacher, poet, history, politics, evangelism, all that stuff. So, he just dubbed me that.
Sara Barton: So, that came prior to, hey, I'm going to be more of a public figure?
Propaganda: Yeah, I was in high school.
Sara Barton: It was just you, high school-
Propaganda: Everybody's making up nicknames.
Sara Barton: It's not a stage name?
Propaganda: No, we were just making up nicknames and just trying to be cool.
Sara Barton: And it stuck.
Propaganda: Pretending we were famous, you know.
Sara Barton: Yeah, well I like both of them because, first I was like, your parents or your sister gave you Jason, but now your cousin gave you Prop, that's awesome.
Propaganda: Yeah, it's all family.
Sara Barton: A communal identity story.
Sara Barton: I love it. I like that. Well, I was curious how that went along with the spiritual story?
Sara Barton: Well, we're talking to and this podcast is for primarily our Pepperdine audience and this is an educated bunch. Tell me about your education and career path so far and Dr. Alma, tell me about your family? First tell me about that then I have a follow up.
Propaganda: So, finished high school, went off to Fullerton, Cal State-Fullerton for my undergrad in illustration and intercultural studies. So, I had planned to be a visual artist and then that didn't pan out. So, then I tried another art, which is so dumb. I sat in waiting rooms ... I was such a purist that when a lot of dudes were seeing the writing on the wall and getting into animation or graphic design, because I did illustration, I was like, "No, pen, pencil, paintbrush, watercolor." Stupid. So, they were going off and getting jobs and then Disney did this flush and just fired like 40% of their hand illustrators.
Propaganda: So, I'm sitting in waiting rooms with guys with the Lion King in their portfolio. So, you're just, "I'm not going to get this job, bro." You got the guy that animated Scar is out of work, then you're just out of luck. So, it was around that time that I started getting more ... Once I finished school, I started getting noticed a little more in hip-hop, but I had no delusions of grandeur, so I went and got ... All through college I was an instructional aide, I was teaching, teacher's aide type stuff. So, then I just got a knack for that, so then I went back and got a teaching credential in history or social science. I taught high school for awhile.
Sara Barton: Where did you do that?
Propaganda: In Pomona, at a high school for the arts, The School of Arts and Enterprise.
Sara Barton: How many years did you do that?
Propaganda: I did that for about four years and I was doing music the whole time, but again I'm not delusional until there came day where the phone rang and it just didn't stop ringing. I think that year I had my first panic attack because I was like, I'm not going to quit a job with benefits to go rap, it's ridiculous.
Sara Barton: Were you married yet at that point?
Propaganda: No, no, I was totally single.
Sara Barton: But even just single on your own, how am I going to quit-
Propaganda: It was just like, man, I'm not going to do this. That's like just be a stereotype, right. Like, oh word, really, that's what you're going to do. Black man's going to finish college, quit school to become a rapper, yeah, great.
Sara Barton: I bet you were a cool teacher.
Propaganda: I had so much fun, yeah.
Sara Barton: Yeah, with the students just knowing you had this side gig going on.
Propaganda: Yeah, when they figured it out, yeah.
Sara Barton: Man, it's like Hamilton.
Propaganda: Yeah, totally.
Sara Barton: History, social science.
Propaganda: That's what I was doing. Bringing a lot of music and stuff into the room. So, I had just went along and was like, I'll give it a couple years and we'll see, but my education's done. If I got to go back, I'll go back. I remember once when it got slow I tried to go back because I knew a friend who was starting an alternative school in Long Beach and I was pursuing music, I was speaking here and there, but I was like, I don't know if this is panning out. So, I went to go interview with him and he just looked at me and was like, "Okay, you're totally qualified for this job, but I'm just not going to give it to you because you don't want to do this, you want to do music." I was like, "But."
Sara Barton: Thanks for the communal discernment.
Propaganda: Yeah, he was just like, "This is not where you belong, bro, just go do it." He's like, "You're perfect, but you don't need to be here. Go do that."
Sara Barton: He knew you.
Propaganda: Yeah, it's crazy. I hadn't thought about that until very recently that fool turned me down. He turned me down because he knew I had something else for me. So, that's my educational journey. I never stopped learning.
Sara Barton: Did you do Bible classes or any seminary or theology stuff in there?
Sara Barton: It sounds like you did when I listen to your ... When I read your lyrics, when I listen to you, you sound like you took-
Propaganda: That was all on my own. I just was so ... Like I said, I just like learning, so I would ... I'd just read and listen. I'm a much ... I'm really an auditory. Some of these modalities are ridiculous, where you're telling me so you can only learn if you listen to something. It's like, I can read too, but I do very ... I retain a lot of what I hear.
Sara Barton: Isn't that poetry, the real first poetry, first literature we have is poetry and it was written so that ... Or it was composed in a non-literate context for the purpose of oral learning and memory. So, it totally makes sense how drawn ... it all fits.
Propaganda: Yeah, so totally, I could sit and listen to lectures and sermons and such and just go, "What is he quoting?" Then, go find that book or that thinker and just draw my own conclusions. I got thrusted into the reformed Calvinist world at some point in there and they have such a high value on academia in their understanding that just to keep up I was like, I got to read what? Just kept reading, kept reading, kept reading, kept reading and I think that's where I kept running into these walls that were reminding me of my Black Panther upbringing. Where I was like, I don't know guys, this sounds like ... I could have sworn Augustan was African. Why you not acting like he's African?
Propaganda: Figuring out these moments and putting this theological learning next to what I knew about history and just being like, I don't know, something's afoot. Then, it was around that time that my musical and poetic public persona started becoming much more widely known. As I was reconciling what I have known academically and culturally and just as a person with what I was learning theologically. it was just kind of like those worlds were clashing and being like, oh yeah, there's something else going on here.
Sara Barton: And you had whatever it takes to put those together and not try to keep those separate, the hip-hop world, oh, can't bring theology into that or I can't bring ... I mean it did take ... That was a risk.
Propaganda: Yeah and I think some of that's ... I didn't even mention that from the church I grew up in. I never, at least that I knew of, a CCM, a Christian sub-culture industry, at least that I knew of, wasn't in Los Angeles. So, there wasn't any place to pull out and just go exist in. It wasn't there. There was gospel music, there was preachers, but it wasn't this sub-world-
Sara Barton: Like Nashville.
Propaganda: Yeah, it wasn't ... So, I didn't know none of that existed. So, at our church, if you liked rap, you liked rap. There was no Christian clubs, I didn't know anything about that. We were just inner city kids, graffiti artists, we were skateboarders, and we did it at our church. After service, they didn't lock the doors, we could go on stage and record ourselves and make raps. So, I didn't not think to not put my faith in my music. I didn't know that was not a thing.
Propaganda: Then, when we went to hip-hop shops out here in Leimert Park and down in Pomona, these different ... These guys were Rastafarians, they were Muslims and no one hid their faith. Everyone just rapped what they knew, so you more trafficked in skills, you trafficked in your ability to rap and that was ... To me, we're all just rapping what we think. So, I didn't know to not. I didn't know that was a thing, that I was supposed to separate it.
Propaganda: So, coming into, as I said, as I became a public figure, coming into a Nashville world where there's this whole other thing that's got these rules that I just ... I wasn't trying to be a disruptor or anything like that, I honestly didn't know. I didn't know who these people were, I didn't know who I was supposed to be impressed with, I didn't know-
Sara Barton: What the labels-
Propaganda: I didn't know what these labels meant, I didn't know what these festivals were about, I didn't know none of that. I just ... I said what I said and I said what I believed and I was like, man, you're calling it this. I just made a rap song. What are you writing blogs about? Why are y'all writing blogs about a rap song? What are you doing?
Sara Barton: So, education, I just hear it, I see it, in your podcasts, in your conversations
with Alma, what is her education?
Propaganda: So, her undergrads at UCLA from psychology and then she went to North Ridge, Cal State-North Ridge for counseling and then her PhD is at UC-Irvine for educational policy and social context. So, she's interested in the high school to college transition, that area. How higher ed works, either first gen immigrants or the first in their family to go to college. So, she's really interested in that transition and guiding students through.
Sara Barton: Wow, we need to get her out here to consult. I mean we got ... I think it's 19% of our undergraduate students are first gen. Something that you might not think when you're sitting there in chapel speaking to our students, so it's an experience.
Propaganda: It really is. Even just listening to her talk to some students so many years later there was things I didn't know. We were talking one day, just shooting the breeze at home, and she was talking about schools we chose and I was like, "Man, I really only applied to three of them because I didn't have the money. I didn't have $50 for an application fee for you to tell me no. Pay you to tell me no." She goes, "You didn't use the fee waivers?" I was like, "Wait, the what?" "You get a fee waiver, you're from a single parent home." I was like, "What are talking ... What? I didn't know." Even hearing her say ... I'm grown, I didn't know that.
Propaganda: So, her offering those sort of services ... I didn't know I could drop a class in mid-semester. Like, dude just drop it. You're going to fail it, just drop it. I was like, "You can't"-
Sara Barton: Nobody told you that?
Propaganda: Nobody told me I could do that. I mean, I didn't go to the resource center. I got a job, I got to work. I'm working through college, so I don't know nothing about that. I don't know about this, I didn't know about office hours, I didn't know about any of it. Had I had somebody go, "No, do this, do this, do this."
Sara Barton: Think for your children what it's going to be like, this is the same for me. Telling my kids all this secret world of higher education because now I've done it. They know about office hours, they know, but it's part of the systemic privilege.
Propaganda: Yeah, totally. I can't wait to drop that on my daughter. Like, "No, no, no, do this, work it like this."
Sara Barton: Yeah, that's be ... And you've got kids?
Propaganda: Two of them.
Sara Barton: Two kids.
Propaganda: Three year old, 13 year old.
Sara Barton: Okay. So, here's what I want to know, back to spiritual life. What did higher education do to your spiritual life?
Sara Barton: Because that's what we're about.
Propaganda: Yeah. Obviously I didn't go to a Christian school. I think I found a group of believers there. I definitely ... I think my sophomore year I had a crisis, just like, man, my youth pastor really over simplified this thing. You just made this seem so easy. Basically like, don't get a girl pregnant and you got it. Or that I'm walking into this sort of war where you just have to ... Like the God's Not Dead film where I got to stand up-
Sara Barton: They're all after you.
Propaganda: They're all after my faith, and they're ruin ... Like you walk into this war and it was just like, I don't know dude, I think this guy's just trying to do his job and when I had to take biology, "They're going to tach evolution, you're going to walk away from Jesus." I had this anxiety for the moment and then I think I just need to ... The teacher has stuff she needs to teach me and I just need to repeat it back to her on a test. I don't know what war-
Sara Barton: It didn't feel like that war they had described?
Propaganda: It didn't feel like ... It was kind of like, man, relax. So, I think that there was a practicality to being a Christian that I think higher ed did for me. To just be like, what are you so worried about? I forced to find my own community, which is super cool. I ran into what I think my first interaction with a cult, I think, happened in college. Where I was like, "Something about this ain't right. I feel like you're kind of saying the right things, but something don't feel right."
Sara Barton: Something's not right here.
Propaganda: I think I'm going to have to change my number on homies. Making friends, meeting people outside of your norms, I had a number of ... I grew up very multicultural, so I had a number of friends outside of my faith, but we dint have to live together. In college, you got to live together and then it just really takes a lot of the mysterium away from ... I was very well taught in my spiritual formation at my church. I was pretty well taught.
Sara Barton: I'm just counting your blessings as we go so there's another one.
Propaganda: Yeah, I was pretty well taught. At the same time, I think that the limits of either their scope of ... Now I'm trying to give them the benefit of the doubt knowing you have so many different stages and phases of life in a room, that how deep do you go into like, here's the ins and outs of Hinduism and when you meet a Hindu. Can you really go into that with your 17 year olds.
Sara Barton: Youth groups or when does that come.
Propaganda: Yeah, when does that come. So, I feel like I was taught such a surfacey understanding of how everybody else thinks about spirituality that when you actually think you go the corner on the market. Everybody think about spirituality all wrong and I figured out how to think about it. Then, when you get into these rooms and people are challenging you and you're hearing these buzz words that your youth leader told you like, "Oh, those are bad signs." This person starts laying it out, it like, "Actually, I don't know. We're not getting struck by lightening. The Earth ain't blow up."
Sara Barton: Sounds like you were pretty grounded.
Propaganda: I feel like it.
Sara Barton: Yeah, you were pretty grounded.
Propaganda: I mean I made my share of mistakes. I, praise the Lord, didn't get a girl pregnant. Wasn't without trying, but praise God it didn't happen. I had the where with all to know that ... Don't try this at home, but it was the reality of that's not the person I want to be. It was a real moment where I was like, I don't want to sleep around. It's not that, again, this fear that God's going to rip the roof open and stop all of time and expose my nakedness. It was just more like, huh, I don't want to live that life.
Sara Barton: Yeah, so it was something more than purity culture.
Sara Barton: You had something deeper than the purity culture going on.
Propaganda: Yeah, once the purity culture went out the window and I don't have to be scared of this. I don't have to be scared of girls or scared of my feelings towards girls. A real decision that I don't want to be that guy.
Sara Barton: You have this line, I want to ask what it means. When we're talking about education you write, but my mouth has yet to catch up with what my heart knows and my heart is still light years behind my library, it's scary.
Sara Barton: Here we are in an education setting, what does that mean? Preach that a minute.
Propaganda: Totally. I really actually think it's indicative to where most of us really are. I know what to say or I know in the most guttural parts of me what is correct and incorrect and in-
Sara Barton: You could write an essay on it.
Propaganda: Yeah, but is it coming out of my mouth. Am I really treating the people around me with dignity and honor, even though I know that I should treat people around me with dignity and honor. So, I know that, but I'm not functioning it.
Sara Barton: Why is it scary?
Propaganda: It's scary because it's ... We have this, at least out in the west, this wealth of knowledge and resources that on ... I have access to every possible ... I just listened to a podcast on the way here where the guy was talking about a first century BC commentary on the book of Ezekiel and a treatise on Daniel. A Jewish theologian from the year 59 writing a thesis on Daniel and I can get that.
Sara Barton: In your car.
Propaganda: In my car.
Sara Barton: On a commute, yeah.
Propaganda: On a phone. So, I'm drowning in resources, and it's ... What has it really done? Am I any further along? Like I said, started off before, my great-grandmother's the holiest person I knew. A third grade education and I'm like drowning in this knowledge. That's scary to me to think that you just ascend this tower, and I'm the same person I was at the bottom of the tower. So, that's the part to me that's kind of scary.
Sara Barton: It is.
Propaganda: I talked in the chapel, so is it folly? Is that was Solomon's saying? I'm still the same ratchet dude with 700 side chicks. I'm still the same guy, but I know it all, seriously I know it all. I also have it all.
Sara Barton: When it comes down to it, when are we holy?
Propaganda: Yes, what did I even ... What am I even trying for? If I'm still going to descend this ladder the same guy I was when I walked up it. So, that thought I think is just a scary thought.
Sara Barton: Well, this is just me reading into your lyrics so maybe I'm wrong, but I'm curious, what happened to you, theologically, between Gospel and Crooked?
Propaganda: That's good.
Sara Barton: So, just examples for people that might not know. This is Gospel, God, our sins, praying, everyone life, you go listen to it versus Crooked Way, these halos stay balanced on the tip of our horn.
Propaganda: Yeah, buddy.
Sara Barton: Those are different, there's more. To love is hard living, but it's life it's who we are. It's messy and uncomfortable and complicated, but so is a star. I mean those are awesome, but that's a theological journey. What happened?
Propaganda: Yeah, that's good. Well, to calibrate that a little bit, the Gospel poem was a commission, so that wasn't ... I wouldn't have chosen to write that, that was commissioned.
Sara Barton: But it got you noticed.
Propaganda: But it got me noticed, yeah.
Sara Barton: It's free and as soon as you Google you it the first thing that comes up.
Propaganda: It's the first one that comes up, it just went viral, but it was for a conference. I got commissioned. They gave me this content and it was like, can you do this poetically? I was like, "Yeah, I'll rewrite it, make something poetic." At the time, I was like, this is the highest I ever got paid to make a poem. I was like, "Sure." Again, it was just meant for the event, it just got out. So, it wasn't necessarily indicative of where I was, it was a commission.
Propaganda: That's not to say that I haven't been on a theological journey, but that poem wasn't necessarily my starting point. That was a gig.
Sara Barton: Just listening to it, to me ... And that helps put it into context. It sounds like Gospel has answers and Crooked has questions.
Propaganda: Yes, which is great. I'm glad you said that because ... It's also, although it was a commission, and it wasn't necessarily where I was theologically, it's probably where I was cognitively. In the sense that, in your early 20's you know everything and just life is-
Sara Barton: Yeah, simply believing and standing in full confidence in your 20's.
Propaganda: Yeah, it's binary. This is correct. So, that's where I was, like I said, cognitively. It maybe wasn't where I was, but that's where that organization is and some of the terms are their literature. You asked me to take your stuff and make it, so I'm like, "Yeah, I'll do it."
Sara Barton: If were an illustrator and they asked you to illustrate something that's going to be a certain kind of art.
Propaganda: Yeah, it's my art, but it's y'all's stuff. So, there's that, but I would say that I was definitely on the route of historical revisionist are wrong. You don't rewrite history knowing full ... Just the cognitive dissonance of knowing full well that I'm going to say historical revisionism's wrong, knowing full well as I'm reading a book about my own history going, that's not at all what happened. This is told by the Conquerer, so it's a load of crap. When I'm sitting here watching these people just praise the Puritans and I'm like, are you all not doing the math here. But the dissonance of my 20's, so I think it's more indicative of that.
Propaganda: The faith journey that you're seeing between Gospel and Crooked is more just me maturing as a man and just being it's not that simple, bro.
Sara Barton: Yeah, Crooked's got cancer and villains and smog and groaning creation.
Propaganda: It's me going, it's not that simple. Life is not that simple when your answers fall short.
Sara Barton: Which is the message you just gave in chapel in so many words.
Sara Barton: Yeah.
Propaganda: And now it's more, I see that as beautiful. Where as I think early on that would have been very disorienting to me and I probably would have said, in my 20's, yeah, no I get it. I would have been totally convinced that I understood Crooked when I was making the other one, thinking, oh yeah, I got that. Okay, no you don't, but sure.
Sara Barton: Yeah, and then you think, what's next then.
Sara Barton: That's the awesome thing about Journey, which for me and I know I'm curious, theological nerd, is it about Luke 3, the crooked made straight? Is it about Isaiah? You start with crooked-
Propaganda: The song is called Crooked Ways and the last ones called Made Straight.
Sara Barton: Is it from Luke, is it from Isaiah?
Propaganda: It's both of those. It is that idea of the crooked being made straight and it's within us, within culture, within society. It is, like I said earlier, it's imagining the beloved city, the beloved community. It's this idea that going through that messy goulash of .. I brought it again, there's Ecclesiastes in there too where it's like, none of this is working. I'm trying my hands in all of these solutions and none of them are actually satisfying me. Maybe I have the wrong definition of satisfaction. It's all of those. It is that narrative art that lands at, yeah dude, all ready, but not yet.
Sara Barton: Hoping in salvation. To me there's no better sermon, hoping ... Isn't that what we're doing?
Propaganda: That's exactly what we're doing. We're talking about something we have no categories for and our receptors of knowledge and space are not calibrated to even perceive, so something all together outside of our realm that self limits and intervenes into our space and chooses the mechanism of humans or nature or skies or whatever the case may be. It's choosing that, we would say, the glory of God is God, but that's just glory. It's Him and it's only a party of Him. The word of God is God, but it's His word, it's a part of Him.
Sara Barton: Part of him.
Propaganda: Yeah, is it 50%? No, it's 100% Him, but it's not all of Him. What do you mean it's a 100% Him, but it's not all of Him? It's because we don't have categories for this.
Sara Barton: Ambiguity.
Propaganda: Yes, the ambiguity things. So, deconstruct what identity means. You got to deconstruct all of it. So, at the end of the day I could say, man, I'm hoping in salvation, boy, because it's this multi faceted diamond that I can really only see this facet over here and I'm trusting you guys over there. You're describing your facet and I'm like, I think we're looking at this thing. Is that the New Testament? Is the New Testament not these guys going, okay wait, what? Okay so, we're Jews that are now in Christ, yeah. Okay, cool, so get your circumcision ... Like, no, wait, wrong? Don't get? Okay, cool, then just make sure you're eating right. Wait, so don't eat? So eat at the temples, no don't eat at the temples, wait so you can? So, then do we baptize?
Propaganda: It's them going, I don't know what just happened to us, I just know something happened to us. Then, poor Peter, the existential crisis of sitting on a roof and being like-
Sara Barton: Oh my goodness, from Acts 4.
Propaganda: Dude, like let's humanize that moment for a second. Yeah, rise and eat, bro. What do you mean rise and eat? Call nothing I made clean, unclean. The Maccabees revolt, we just died because of this. What do you mean where did I get these ideas? Deuteronomy, that's where I got the concept. I got it from ... It's the law, fam, what are you talking about where did I get it from?
Sara Barton: It's like it had to be told twice. So, you got Peter hearing it, and a few chapters later you got him telling it. It's like you got to tell the story-
Propaganda: You got to keep saying it again.
Sara Barton: Again and again.
Propaganda: I don't know, dude. So, I try to place myself in that moment, whatever I'm grappling with, any theological turning point in my life where I'm just like, hey dude, nothing's off the table. You may have this all wrong and I flash to Acts 8 and poor Peter.
Sara Barton: It never really totally made sense until he was in the beloved community.
Propaganda: Never, yeah.
Sara Barton: It didn't make sense on the house-
Propaganda: Yeah, sitting on the roof.
Sara Barton: It didn't make sense, but in community a little later they discerned together. Oh my goodness, these people got the Holy Spirit just like we've got the Holy Spirit.
Propaganda: Yes, oh my gosh.
Sara Barton: How are we going to deny it, we, together, community.
Propaganda: You're talking about people, oh my ... Yeah, just all that.
Sara Barton: That discernment. I wish we could do that discernment about a lot of things going on in the world right now.
Propaganda: Oh, yes.
Sara Barton: So, Luke or Isaiah, whichever one you want to put Crooked and Straight in, it was political times.
Sara Barton: Both of them. What did politics or if anything have to do with-
Propaganda: Yeah, that albums chock-full-
Sara Barton: I mean it's all in there. If anybody wants to go listen to it, it's an outpouring.
Propaganda: I think I wanted to deparse ... I wanted to decompartmentalize politics, faith, religion, race. I wanted to decompartmentalize and say it's all happening ... You're one person and all of these our happening to one person. You're not a compartment, you're one person. So, I wanted to take all these compartments, remove them and just say, no, this is happening to us, now, all of it. It's hitting all of us from multifaceted, so I try to, in that album, go from political to personal to pointing out to reflecting back like I'm trying to keep you off balance. Go back and forth between all those things.
Sara Barton: And confront yourself as much as you confront anybody else.
Propaganda: Yes, so as you're riling up your fist, like yeah Prop you tell them, then to pause and be like, oh wait, he's talking about me too. So, the role that I feel like ... Our cultural moment, as I'm writing that and even my stuff now, it pushed us to that. It was an undeniable conversation. You can't not talk about this. If I'm going to make an album that's in any way relatable you can't ... What am I not going to talk about what the entire nation's talking about.
Propaganda: I wanted to give perspective of saying like hey, politics, they're not abstract. These are not abstract concepts. Just like you don't believe that Jesus is abstract, you believe your salvation ain't abstract. Salvation's real and it's really happening to you, so I'm like, well that's what politics are. It's not just ideas, "I just believe in the Conservative idea." I'm like, well, conserving what first? That's a translative verb, so what are you conserving? So I'm like, I believe in conserving life and how I think conserving life-
Sara Barton: I'm a conservative when it comes to life.
Propaganda: Yeah, when it comes to life, which means that maybe we should have some police reform because it's not conserving life. You're being very liberal with our blood, how about that. So, I think that I wanted to bring that into the thing and just say hey, stop thinking about these things in the abstract. These are happening to actual people and you're a one person, you're not a ... You're one person and see all of this colliding because that's how your life is. You have a job, you got family, you got traffic, it's all happening now to one you. You can't put it away, it's all you, so I wanted to make an album that made you feel like that.
Sara Barton: Well, I notice in the album and just on your podcast you're somewhat public about marriage, about sex, about lust, it comes up, these themes are there. And you pushed back on objectification of women in multiple ways. So, what does that have to do with gospel, with faith, for you?
Propaganda: I think at the end of the day my North Star is still just image bearer. It's still reflecting the image of God and if that has to be the most precious part of our humanity and the full realization of reflecting the image of God is to be fully human. That's the narrative of our Bibles. This is the plan for us, we're to be the image of God in the world.
Propaganda: So, it's an assault on His character and His plan for human, for me to think of anyone any less than that, not invariably the female. It should be anathema to place our women in that position. I think that, also in my own experience ... One, my background coming from K-12 education as a teacher, I've always had girl bosses. I've only worked for female principals and then I'm married to ... I mean, she's a doctor. So, I've sat under the leadership of ladies and I told you the most holy woman I know, the most holy person I knew was my great-grandmother. So, I've just sat under this facet of humanity and have learned from and am better from.
Propaganda: It's hard for me to get my brain around an experience that don't know that about girls. I don't know if that makes sense, but I don't ... Setting aside just the innate value of your species. I don't have any right to do that, but just from an anecdotal experience, I don't understand ... What about this seems inferior to you? I just don't understand, point at it, show me something that ... What are you talking about?
Sara Barton: I'm working on a sermon, 2 Samuel, David and Bathsheba right now and with the Me Too movement, you just can't help ... As much as you may have seen some of it before 10 years ago, 20 year ago, right now there's just something in there. So, how are you feeling the Me Too movement, just in your life, in your context?
Propaganda: I think there's a reckoning of my own understandings of masculinity. There's no tape coming out on me, there's no ... That I know of at least. Definitely I think any man worth his salt is running the tape back, all the way through middle school and back. Even being ... I'm thinking of fifth grade in the pool, nobody's even started puberty yet, but I'm pushing Leah. I'm pushing her and then I push her in her chest because we're kids, but I don't realize this as an adult. I don't know what that did to her, but-
Sara Barton: That tape is in your head, you're replaying it.
Propaganda: If you're a man worth your salt, you're trying to find those moments because now you have to redefine masculinity, if you didn't have-
Sara Barton: I've been thinking about that with David, this warrior. What did they say, he's a man above Saul or whatever? Saul had his men-
Propaganda: Yeah, 10,000.
Sara Barton: 10,000, this is a masculinity story. So, I've been thinking about the masculinity theme going on with David.
Propaganda: That's good. Even with that, I look at David and I go, yeah, it's cool, but he's a poet. A poet ain't masculine, quote unquote and realizing how much of my understanding of masculinity is Victorian, which doesn't mean it's Biblical, it's just Victorian. I'm not an alpha male, I'm competitive but I'm competitive with myself in the sense of, I feel like if I'm amazing at something, I'm going to be amazing at something and I'm going to prove it to everybody else, but I don't need to defeat you in everything. I'm fine, I don't need to be in charge all the time. I don't like being in charge.
Sara Barton: You don't equate that with being a man.
Propaganda: I don't equate that. I don't like fighting, I don't like pain. If something hurt, I'm going to admit it. I don't understand dude's be like, "That didn't hurt." Well, you're lying. I don't subscribe to all of that, but I still thought that was masculinity. So, for me the maleness isn't that rough and tough for me, but it's the pride for me. Where it's the work ethic, the pride, you get a job done, you do it well, you take care of your family, take care of business, you sacrifice, you lay stuff down, you work hard. That's what man is to me.
Propaganda: Everybody around me needs to understand that that's what Prop is doing and the women in my house need to understand that I'm going to go slay this wildebeest for you. I'll never lay a hand on you, I'll never talk to you about it any other way. You can go whatever wildebeest you want I'm not going to stop you, but just know that that's what I'm going to do because I'm a man. Rather than being like, well, how about you just love them so that's why you're doing it.
Propaganda: So, when I think of Me Too it's more like ... Like I said, there's no tape coming out, but I need to really think about what I mean by masculine.
Sara Barton: Thank you for that.
Propaganda: My pleasure.
Sara Barton: We're doing one thing with this podcast we'll do now because I believe God speaks through the words of scripture, so I'm going to read from Isaiah and I just want to ask you, how does this passage inform our search for God? We're people searching for God, searching to join God's good work in this world and I'm curious what you think about this passage. So, here's what it says, from Isaiah 58.
Sara Barton: Shout out, do not hold back. Lift up your voice like a trumpet, announce to my people their rebellion to the house of Jacob their sins. Yet, day after day they seek me and delight to know my ways as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness and did not forsake the ordinance of their God. They ask of me righteous judgements. They delight to draw near to God. Why do we fast, but we do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice? Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day and oppress all your workers. Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high.
Propaganda: Yeah, I mean that just hits me with ... This one is one of the harder passages to me because I think it hits you right square in the religion. Right square in the self righteous. That I can heap up these things that in my mind you suppose to think is amazing. So, I think often just about my own relationship, back to my spouse. Like, here I did this for you. Don't you think it's amazing? Well, sure, I guess. And I'm like, why are you not responding? You're supposed to fall and [inaudible 00:54:19] because I did this for you.
Propaganda: So, when I think of that I think of my wife often times being like, "You know you could just ask me what I like."
Sara Barton: Listen.
Propaganda: "How about that? How about you just ask me what I like?" I'm like, "No, I know what you like." "Well, clearly you don't." I feel like the fact that ... Which is back to the conversation ... It's a slight on my manhood that I don't already know what you like. I'm supposed to be this romantic, sweep you off your feet, I can just read your mind. So, that hits me in the way that I take my faith that way. I'm supposed to already know what God like. I know what you like, you want this.
Sara Barton: Yeah, this must be it.
Propaganda: Yeah, look how amazing I am? Look what I just done for you. Rather than being like-
Sara Barton: Do we listen?
Propaganda: You could ask me, yeah.
Sara Barton: Yeah, do we listen, do we ask?
Propaganda: Yeah, just take a second, listen up man. He has shown you, man.
Sara Barton: So, going on with these images from Isaiah 58, what does this mean practically for people that are listening? How do we avoid this self righteous and actually delight to draw near God?
Propaganda: Recognizing your position, your lot, where you are, you're time constraints. Just the practicality of how your day looks means that we have to get in the practice of hunting for those moments and almost like ... Yeah, I think hunting's the best way to describe it to where it's just like, okay, this is my space, this is where I am, this is how I can flip my understanding of me not ... Whatever, whatever, to the person sitting in the cubicle next to me is, look God, I'm honoring you like this. Just being more, how can I, in the space that I'm in now, participate in the greater things that the rest of that passage actually talks about.
Sara Barton: It's a humility instead of a pride. Just the humble-
Propaganda: Yeah, it's a posture that I think that ... Often times posture informs action. So, I personally because all of our localities are so different, I always want to put an emphasis on that posture. That posture of listening, that posture of humility, the posture of esteeming others higher than yourself and knowing that these are the things that Christ asked of me. Then, being willing to, in whatever space I am. I'm not going to look over at this guy's desk and try to figure out how he needs to do that or how she needs to do that, I need to be sitting here thinking about how am I going to carry out these ideas in the space that I'm in.
Propaganda: In my own life I think about getting to places on time. I think about being ready for sound check, having paperwork turned in, being attentive in meeting and stuff like that. It's not so much because I want to, it's just I'm trying to carry out this posture that you're wanting me to.
Sara Barton: Until you get up there and you seem all religious in from of everybody if the little things aren't there.
Propaganda: Yeah, it may look good. I can put together ... I'm a professional communicator, I can put together words, I can do that, but am I carrying the posture of the little homie that mics me. Am I look him in the eye, am I asking him his name? Am I going to hand it back to him? Am I going to yell at the sound guy? "What are you doing?" Nah, carrying a posture that is in the back of my mind knowing that I'm talking to an image bearer, rather than just carrying out these acts of outward manifestations of what somebody may perceive as holiness.
Sara Barton: What would happen if we all did that?
Sara Barton: Amen. Well, thank you for taking just a moment to look at the scripture with me. I appreciate that and this conversation. I have 20 more questions I would love to ask, but even on a podcast that's too many, so we have to stop somewhere. Thank you for blessing our community in chapel today and for blessing our community more people will be able to engage through this podcast and for your lyrics and your poetry.
Propaganda: Thank you guys.